Modesty: It’s about More Than Clothes

Young Adults

Modesty: It’s about More Than Clothes

There’s a lot of focus on being modest on the outside. But what about being modest on the inside?

Women Profile

Many of us grew up learning about modesty in church. And it’s clear why—modesty is an important gospel principle that can help us govern our own thoughts and actions as well as how we present ourselves. In learning how to internalize and live this and related gospel principles, we can become more like our Savior.

Growing up, we may have been taught that modesty is only about our outward appearance. Teachings about modesty may have focused solely on clothing that is too revealing or other aspects of our self-presentation that could be extreme, such as piercings, tattoos, hairstyles, or general grooming. But modesty is not only about clothes or what’s on the outside—it also includes what’s on the inside.

Modesty is defined as “an attitude of humility and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If you are modest, you do not draw undue attention to yourself. Instead, you seek to ‘glorify God in your body, and in your spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also verse 19).”1

If we understand and live by this more complete definition, with an attitude of seeking to glorify God, modesty becomes something we can use to measure all of our actions against—not just what we choose to wear.

Our Inner Commitment

Men and Women Profiles

Sister Elaine S. Dalton, former Young Women General President, taught: “Modesty encompasses much more than the outward appearance. It is a condition of the heart. It is an outward manifestation of an inner knowledge and commitment. It is an expression that we understand our identity as [children] of God. It is an expression that we know what He expects us to do. It is a declaration of our covenant keeping.”2

So if dressing modestly truly is an outward reflection of our inward commitment to living modestly, how then do we develop that inward commitment?

First, we can deepen our understanding of who we are, what our covenants mean to us, and the sacredness of our bodies. And we can keep in mind the real reasons for choosing to dress modestly. It’s about living the way that God wants us to.

We could start by asking ourselves, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?” Likewise, we can consider things like our language and behavior: “You might ask yourself … : ‘Would I say these words or participate in these activities if the Lord were present?’ Your honest answers to these questions may lead you to make important changes in your life.”3

Sister Carol F. McConkie, former First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, taught:

“Modesty in dress, appearance, thought, and behavior is an individual, personal witness to the Lord that we honor Him and that we ‘delight’ in the covenants that we have made in sacred priesthood ordinances. …

“The daily choices we make about the clothing we wear, the words we speak, the thoughts we think, the images we view, the music we allow to come into our homes, and the media we permit to enter our minds and hearts, and our behavior in public and in private—all of it—reflect how well we honor that covenant.”4

We can get so focused on one aspect of modesty that we don’t even consider if we’re not being modest in other ways. In addition to how we dress, what are we watching, reading, listening to, or talking and joking about with our friends? You could be modest on the outside and still not be modest on the inside.

There are many behaviors we might not realize are inconsistent with the principle of modesty, including gossiping, judging or excluding others, being prideful or boastful, swearing or using rude language, acting crassly or inappropriately in public, and being envious. These characteristics and behaviors violate commandments other than modesty, such as the commandment to love thy neighbor and to cease to judge. But they also show a lack of humility, meekness, and connection to God—all of which are connected to modesty.

Inward modesty might be a new concept to us, but we can work to change our mindset and start to see the purpose behind Heavenly Father asking us to be modest in all things. He wants us to focus on the things we can do to grow spiritually, serve others, act kindly, and have pure thoughts. He wants us to use our bodies not as ornaments but instead as instruments in His hands.5

How We Can Teach Modesty

With this more complete understanding of what modesty entails, we can better teach this principle to others.

We can teach that modesty is about an inward commitment to Jesus Christ and help others understand how to develop that kind of commitment.

We can explain that modesty shouldn’t make us feel ashamed about our bodies. Modesty isn’t about covering our bodies because they’re inherently bad—they are just the opposite, in fact. Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “When we recognize our bodies as the gifts they are and when we understand the missions they help us fulfill, we protect and honor them by how we act and dress.”6

We can make sure that modesty is taught equally to both boys and girls, men and women. And we can share the truth that we are agents “to act … and not to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:26)—so when we are surrounded by the immodesty of the world, we have the power to exercise self-control and not entertain inappropriate thoughts. But we can also have compassion for others and do all we can to help one another keep our thoughts and actions in line with what God asks of us.

Finally, we can teach that modesty shouldn’t be used as a tool of judgment against others. We should prioritize loving, welcoming, and accepting others over making someone feel bad for how they are dressed. As we make it a point to first help others understand their divine worth and identity, they will naturally start to incorporate principles of modesty into their lives—both inwardly and outwardly.

Glorifying God

When we focus on being modest on the inside, we are better able to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives. Elder Hales taught, “To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us.”7 The Spirit can guide us to know what to wear, what to say, and what to do to remain modest in all ways.

The scriptures teach us that we “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that [we] should shew forth the praises of him who hath called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We glorify God in our modest actions and appearance. It’s not just about our clothes; it’s also about how we personify the work we are called to do.

Of course, Jesus Christ is our perfect example of being meek and modest in all aspects of life. He always points to His Father as the source of His power, not Himself. He glorifies God in everything He does and everything He is. And that is what modesty is really all about.